One of the recent conferences of the Orthodox priests who work in the Outside Kerala Region had a very relevant theme: “Share the glory and goodness of God”. It gave a call for the theosis or divinization of Christian ministers. This was taken from the introductory remarks of the Second Epistle of St. Peter, which reads: “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2Pet.1:3). Let us examine the context in which the verse was originally written and what are the demands of being called in the glory and goodness of God.
Even though the authorship of the Second Epistle was always disputed right from the beginning, the main ideas are compatible with those of the Early Christian Church. Origen was the first Church Father who ascribed the epistle to St. Peter, the disciple of Christ as it is mentioned in the very first verse of the book. A careful reading of the letter would expose the context in which it was written. It seems that Peter wrote it almost at the end of his life by visualizing his death (2Pet. 1:14-15). His intention was to make sure that his disciples or students teach the right kind of Gospel in their congregations. He did this because many false interpreters of the Bible were misguiding the people (2.1). Peter speaks about “eloquent but erring” teachers who crept in to an Apostolic Church and invaded it. These had not only deviated from the “orthodox” faith of the Church but also misguided the believers, who were supposed to be divinized through the study of Bible.
False Interpreters of the Scripture
The main theme of the Epistle is, however, a caricature of the “false interpreters” of the Bible. Peter finds them as a dangerous group like the “False Prophets” of the Old Testament. These were mostly court prophets, who worked in the palaces of Old Testament kings. For them money, power and name were more important than the Word of God. Just to please the rulers of Israel they compromised with the world mostly. The Bible teachers of the Church of 2 Peter are not better than these. See the important allegations raised against them in the Epistle:
1. They introduce destructive heresies (2:1): The responsibility of a Christian teacher is always to teach the right faith in accordance with the Bible. But there were many in the past who became heretics, because of their lack of commitment to God, who appointed them as teachers of His Word. Even today there are many who do this without knowing that they will have to report back to Him, who sent them.
2. They do not respect the heavenly beings (2:10): Because of their over confidence and arrogance they lose their thoughts even about heaven. The presence of heavenly beings like angels in the Church will totally be ignored by these foolish preachers. They do not realize that whatever they do is naked before the “unseen” divine beings.
3. They are arrogant (2:11): Due to their ability to know the Scripture, understand it and interpret it, some theologians become arrogant. They forget the source of their wisdom and think that whatever they do are just because of their talents. Gradually they distance themselves from God and the people among whom they are appointed as God’s companions.
4. They blaspheme in matters, which they don’t understand (2:12): A Bible teacher should be sincere. While the people consider them as teachers, who know everything under the sky, they have to realize that there are human limitations. So they should keep silence on some occasions; it is better than to blaspheme and make God a laughing stock for many.
5. They are immoral and they seduce the unstable (2:14): The today’s English Version translates this as: “their appetite for sin is never satisfied”. It is a fact that the teachers of the Bible get attracted from the common public and the women faster than from the intellectuals. And due to their confidence in them as “brotherly” or “fatherly” figures women may take more freedom in their relationships too. What happens in the case of “false teachers” is they misunderstand this and some of them become immoral. This is a great and unpardonable sin.
6. They are greedy (2:14): The Bible teachers and pastors have access to the wealthy and powerful of a place. They may also get money and other gifts. This can tempt some of them to become rich and rich. What they have to remember is the fact that when they decided to become a leader of the Church their intention was not to make money. They would have got qualifications for a decent job, which would bring them more money. But their decision was to serve the Lord at first. Therefore greedy teachers blaspheme God and His Church.
7. They don’t really believe in the promises of our Lord about His second coming (3:4): This is the biggest blunder of a Bible teacher. It is quite normal that people may be skeptic towards some of the teachings of the Bible. But the teachers of the Bible are called and appointed by God and therefore they have to clear the doubts of the audience. At first they have to be convinced and only they will be able to teach. Instead of this some of them may ask like scoffers: “Where is the promise of his coming? …all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation”.
In a nutshell Peter warns his people against some of the teachers of the Bible. They will be good in speaking and they can make good impressions through their crafty speeches. Good stories and illustrations will be their attraction. But they are like “springs without water” or “clouds driven by storm” (2:17). Even angels are afraid of them, and therefore these would not blame them (2:11), but a donkey may speak against them as in the case of Balaam, the insanity of a prophet is exposed (2:16). Peter has no doubt that the false teachers will be punished, because God did not spare even the angels, who sinned (2:4). One who creates wrong theologies will definitely be punished in the Day of the Judgment; the flood during Noah’s time (2:5) or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6) are warnings for them.
Make God’s Call a Permanent Experience
As a remedy for the evils in which a Bible Teacher can involve himself Peter suggests to “make the divine call and choice a permanent experience” (1:10). One has to refresh his divine experience on a daily basis. Bible reading, devotions and meditations can help him. The Biblical instances where prophets and teachers were called by God should certainly inspire a theologian. He should realize the value of the Divine Call and tell himself that God has appointed him as a teacher of the Bible. Once this is ensured, everything else would follow. The voice of a speaker, his qualifications, his language background, his communicative skills and his physical appearance would not make him a preacher or theologian, who speaks on behalf of God. He gets that authority only through his continuous relationship with God. Every prophecy or Scripture is inspired by God (1:20) and similarly, the interpretation of the Bible is possible only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit (1:21).
Similarly, a teacher of the Scripture was asked to lead a “holy” and “dedicated” life. Peter asks him to seven virtues to their Christian faith. These are: Goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, charity and Love (1:5-7). Only when a theologian or pastor or teacher of the Church has got these basic virtues in life he can interpret the Bible as per God’s wish. More than jokes, illustrations and dramatic anecdotes what the believers need is a real “witness” of God; this will make them Partakers of the Glory and goodness of God.